Story: Ranginui – the sky

Page 5. Other members of the family of light

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Māori had a sophisticated understanding of planetary motion and held particular regard for Kōpū (Venus), Hine-i-tīweka (Jupiter), Matawhero (Mars) and Whiro (Mercury).

Venus, which is only seen on the horizon before dawn or after the sun sets, was also known as Tāwera, whose name refers to the way it appeared to be burned up on the eastern horizon by the rising sun, and Meremere-tū-ahiahi (to stand out on the western horizon after the sun sets). Jupiter was a female entity, known as Pareārau (Pare of a hundred lovers) or Hine-tiweka (wayward Hine). These names come from the observation that at certain times, Jupiter and Venus sit together on the horizon, but that over subsequent nights Jupiter appears to wander away. Jupiter is interpreted as the wife of Venus, leaving her husband at home while she has affairs with other stars.


Auahiroa and auahitūroa, meaning ‘long smoke trails’, and ūpokoroa, were common names for comets. One tradition from the Mātaatua tribes in the Bay of Plenty says that Te Rā (the sun) sent his son Auahi-tūroa, a comet, to give fire to humankind. Auahi-tūroa married Mahuika, who bore five children, Te Tokorima (the five fingers): Takonui, Takoroa, Māpere, Manawa and Toiti. Another account says that the demigod Māui retrieved fire from the fingernails of Mahuika, his grandmother, and planted it in trees such as kaikōmako, rimu and tōtara, which were used in traditional fire making. Fire is often known as Tama-a-Auahi-tūroa (son of Auahi-tūroa).


Meteors, or shooting stars, are called matakōkiri, tūmatakōkiri, kōtiri and kōtiritiri. Māori interpreted them in several ways – they were thought to convey fire to Earth, or to be stars that the sun or moon had struck down. Bright meteors were taken as a good omen, indicating future action. Duller ones were bad omens. Meteors also augured the death of great leaders and the rise of new ones.

How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Ranginui – the sky - Other members of the family of light', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 19 May 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 12 Jun 2006